Christian: Today I’m joined by Mark Richardson. Mark is a double Olympian, silver medalist at the 1996 Olympic Games, bronze medalist at the 1992 Olympic Games, and World Champion in 1997.
Mark: Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be joining you here today. Thank you.
How he got into the grueling event of the 400-meter sprint
Christian: Mark, your discipline, the 400 meters, is one of the most grueling events. How did you get into that?
Mark: It was by accident. It certainly wasn’t by choice. It was more to do with physiology and I guess the event that I was best at.
It was by accident. It certainly wasn’t by choice.
The reason that I got involved in athletics in the first place was the great Carl Lewis. I wanted to emulate him and I wanted to be a sprinter and actually, my body just couldn’t withstand the explosive power and nature of that event. So it was my dad who planted the seed of giving the 400 a try, and I adapted to it pretty well and the rest is history.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your athletic life, what was your darkest moment?
Mark: I’ve been reflecting on this and there’s been a few. So there were some injuries that I thought actually would mean the end of my career. An athlete never wants to be injured and it’s one of the most frustrating things possible.
I lost my best friend to illness. He suffered from cystic fibrosis, so that was really out there. The other thing that was a real hammer blow to me was having my identity challenged.
A real hammer blow to me was having my identity challenged. Having to clear my name and having to go through that whole experience was a human tragedy.
So the fact that I, through no fault of my own, never knowingly took a prohibited substance, but I failed a drug test for some supplements I was taking. They were contaminated with something that shouldn’t have been in there. Having to clear my name and having to go through that whole experience was a human tragedy, really.
Why he accepted his ban from the competition
Christian: It’s written on Wikipedia that you also didn’t refuse the ban that was put onto you, whilst some of your fellow colleagues did.
Mark: Don’t get me wrong, by that, I didn’t challenge it, because I wanted to get to the bottom of it. It felt like it was an issue that was bigger than just me.
There was this whole speculation, curiosity, and research around Nandrolone because it naturally occurs in the human body. There’s a di minimus level and people weren’t sure that actually through high intensive activity or supplementation, whether that could trigger a natural response in the human body.
What I wanted to do was protect other athletes and I wanted to be completely transparent. I accepted the rules of the sport, which is strict liability, so once the substance is found within your system, that you are responsible for that finding.
But what I wanted to do was use a values-based approach that got to the truth. I essentially became a human guinea pig. So I got tested and prodded and went through all kinds of different Nandrolone reviews.
I didn’t challenge it, because I wanted to get to the bottom of it. It felt like it was an issue that was bigger than just me. I wanted to do a values-based approach that got to the truth. I essentially became a human guinea pig.
An IOC accredited lab got involved in it and I was able to categorically prove that what I’d spoken about, i.e. the supplementation being the root cause of it, was the case and I got exonerated and welcomed back into the sport. And I think I’m one of the very few athletes who’ve been able to achieve that.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment?
Mark: How did I recover? That is an interesting question. It’s forged who I am, so it’s become part of my character.
If you can get through something that challenges you to that level, that really challenges your identity and your perceived identity and how you try and portray yourself to the world and what you represent and stand for, it is worth it.
When that gets rocked, it causes you to reflect. It causes you to work out what’s really important to you. It causes you to reassess your values and be really clear on what your values are going forward.
In many ways, I wouldn’t quite say it’s the making of me, but it certainly helped me to be much clearer and give me a clearer focus of who I want to be and the type of life I want to live going forward. I wouldn’t wish for a different outcome. It’s helped to forge me into the person I am today and I quite like the person I am today, so it was a good learning experience.
Christian: That is cool. I’ve spoken to Mark McKoy before, and he has also had similar challenges. He said there was a moment for him to learn who his friends were because when it came out most people were ‘running for the hills’ were his words.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Mark: One of them was winning the Olympic silver medal in the 4x 400-meter relay in 1996. I guess for me, the reason for that was because I had always dreamt of going to the Olympics and getting onto the podium.
It was a dream having that heady euphoric moment of winning an Olympic medal and just being able to absorb and just take in the adulation and the crowd in that environment. That is probably the greatest imaginable challenge that you can put out there.
Check out the Men’s 4x400m Relay Final 1996 Atlanta Olympics Game
It was absolutely fantastic to have that dream as an 11-year-old, and for that to be the galvanizing motivational force that helps you through the highs and lows you experience through sport. Actually to be able to realize that and have that moment with three other colleagues that you just have such a deep reservoir of respect for was really fantastic.
So I love that experience and it’s something that I’ll treasure. That Olympics medal has a deep narrative that sits behind it.
That Olympics medal has a deep narrative that sits behind it.
It’s really nice that my children are now of an age where they’re interested and curious about and want to hear the story. They take inspiration from it and it’s lovely when you see others taking inspiration from it as well. That’s certainly one of the highlights.
Another highlight was running my personal best, a time of 44.37 seconds. And that was an interesting race because it was at the Oslo Golden League, as it was known at that point in time. It was the time when the track was only six lanes.
It was from Lane one and also a nice outcome from that race was that I beat the former world record holder, Michael Johnson. Not many people can claim to have that accolade, so I was the only European athlete who’ve ever beaten Michael Johnson, so that’s pretty cool as well.
Not many people can claim to have that accolade, so I was the only European athlete who’ve ever beaten Michael Johnson, so that’s pretty cool as well.
Christian: Going back to the Olympic Games, I watched the final. Did the number two go out a little bit too fast?
Mark: Jamie [Baulch] used to run his races to that pattern, so it’s a difficult one. You could say with a critical lens and a critical eye, could Jamie have extracted a little bit more from the race? Who knows, but that was his tempo; that was his race pattern, and that was his style.
We did remarkably well, so we ran a European record which still stands today actually, so I don’t think a British team has got near to that mark. There were some incredible individual performances.
Could we have been even better on the day? Absolutely, I think we could. There were some marginal gains that we could have got. Would that have been good enough to get us to the gold medal? Who knows.
His advice to a younger Mark Richardson
Christian: If you could travel back in time, 10, 15, 20 years, what advice would you give a younger Mark?
Mark: What advice would I probably give? I’d probably give two because I’ve got a time machine after all. I’d say work on your self-belief. Work really, really hard, and relentlessly on your self-belief.
Work relentlessly on your self-believe.
Self-belief in any environment is such a big predictor of success, high performance, and getting the types of outcomes that you want. Surrounding yourself with people who will embolden your self-belief as well is really, really important.
The second one would be to activate an even stronger level of my learning mindset. I was very much an activist as an athlete; wanting to train hard and work harder than I did the year before.
I always spent more time reflecting and working out systems and processes that would have helped me to become ultimately a better athlete. So, I think that harnessing the power of reflection and activating a stronger learning mindset would be something I’d definitely be inviting myself to think about if I could do that.
Christian: To make it a bit clearer, what could be an example of that?
Mark: It’s really disseminating lessons learned and being really interested and intentional about that continuous improvement. Instead of just thinking that working harder and training to a greater intensity will get you to the outcome that you want, it’s thinking about how can you create innovation.
Instead of just thinking that working harder, it’s thinking about how can you create innovation.
How can you streamline some approaches? How can you get to that same enhanced level of personal performance, but do it in a way that’s more intelligent – a way that wouldn’t touch your system, touch your body as much? I think that deep level of reflection, I would invite anyone to get and to embrace.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and person?
Mark: I’m a relentless goal setter and I think there are many benefits to that, but there’s also a shadow side to it. I like to focus on outcomes and having something that’s going to command my thoughts, liberate my energy and inspire my hopes.
I’m a relentless goal setter and there are many benefits to that, but there’s also a shadow side to it.
I like something that’s really big and something that kind of almost takes your breath away in terms of the size and magnitude of the thing that you’re going after. I think that’s really important.
Then being quite rigorous and systematic, so that’s the outcome that you’re going for. It is important actually working out what your own personal narrative is and why it’s important to you and getting that really firmly crystallized.
That’s the thing that you kind of tuck under your pillow, because that’s the thing when the going gets tough, you need to be able to access that, to really, enhance and optimize your intrinsic burst of motivation. I think goal setting, but really well-rounded holistic goals is really important.
The shadow side is that you never necessarily get to the point where you’re ever satisfied, so I’m relentlessly driving forward. I recognize that in myself and I’ve got to be careful not to impose that on others. I think I’m pretty good at that.
Now, I’m a much stronger reflector than I ever was. Actually, in the profession that I’m in now, I challenge executives from a wide range of different industries to think about the hallmarks of their leadership.
I want them to think about what makes them a fantastic leader or what would help them to create an even better environment for their people. Actually, some of the almost performing coaching practice that I use on others, I use on myself, so I have a deeper level of reflection.
So taking that and harnessing that is definitely something that’s helping me. It didn’t help me as much in my athletic career, but it’s certainly something I’m utilizing now.
The lessons he learned as an athlete that he took into business life
Christian: What were the lessons learned as an athlete that you are taking into your role in the business right now?
Mark: Focus needs to be absolute. Having that intensity and commitment to whatever it is that you’re driving to, I think that is discipline. Being able to get yourself into a place whereby you’re prepared to do the hard yards that are required to get you to the outcome goal that you’re after, so being relentless in your pursuit of the process goals.
All those small building blocks, I guess those one-percenters, that will if you’re able to activate them and to do them in a really rigorous and complete way, that when you chunk them up to aggregate them together, it will really jet propel your performance.
I was very good at that. I was very good at doing things that perhaps other people didn’t want to do or they lost interest in.
I was very good at doing things that perhaps other people didn’t want to do.
I knew that that would give me a platform, so seeing that through and having that commitment was something that was absolutely key. I guess that towards the back end of my career, I started to really get in tune and harnessing what were my strengths as an athlete and how do you almost get them to be super strengths of your own?
Too often people think about their weaknesses and pursue those, instead of thinking about the hallmarks and attributes that make you good at what it is that you do and really working and over-indexing on those. I think those will take you to a really great place to be able to do that.
Christian: Well, focusing on the strengths rather than weaknesses.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Mark: One of my favorite morning routines, I can’t always do that because I’ve got a young family. I have two daughters, twelve and six.
Of course, with the current conditions that we’re working, we’ve all been homeschooling and working from home. It’s been really intense. I have fallen into a pattern of working out early morning, and working out is across the spectrum.
My best start to a morning would be to be able to get up before my family rise, go out for a run in the forest that I’m close to for an hour or so, come back, have a leisurely breakfast, and integrate with family and then kick on with work. That just sets me up for a great day.
My best start to a morning would be to be able to get up before my family rise, go out for a run in the forest that I’m close to for an hour.
If I’m able to do that, be outdoors, get some good cardiovascular work in as well, in an awe-inspiring background, it’s just fantastic. I love it. Absolutely love it.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Mark: In a variety of ways, but preparation is key. It depends on what the performance moment in question is, but preparation is a classic piece of it.
So, preparation is key, and to really being able to take ownership of whatever it is that you’re about to embark on, whether it’s a presentation or facilitating a group or a performance moment as an athlete. It’s working backward from there and working out what is it that you need to be at your authentic best and to be able to be your best with skill at that moment.
Preparation is key and to really being able to take ownership of whatever it is that you’re about to embark on
So, preparation is absolutely vital for me. So lots and lots of prep work. I’m a great believer in visualization. Is it scenario planning?
It’s imagining the environment that you’re going to be plunging yourself into and I guess what I don’t ever want to be is overwhelmed or intimidated by that environment. So thinking through what it might be like, what my emotional arousal might be like.
Working through all the different scenarios that I might encounter helps me to feel much more comfortable and at ease when I’m actually in that environment as well. Just being really clear on what a great performance would look like.
So with the outcomes you are working toward, you can use that in case that’s what high-grade performance looks like, then you work backward from that to make sure you got all the building blocks in place to give you the best possible chance of actualizing it.
The race where he beat Michael Johnson
Christian: You’ve already mentioned it earlier, you were one of the few guys to beat Michael Johnson. Did you strategically plan that race or was it more something where you just tried and it happened?
Mark: A bit of both really. A bit of an oxymoron it was both ends. What I remember or recall about that race, at the time Oslo was a six-lane track. The lane draw that you get was all based on seating or times that you’ve run during the performance or your stature as an athlete.
Michael Johnson got the preferential lane. I think it might’ve been three because he’s the world’s number one by a country mile. I was in Lane one. Europeans tend to start the season late, my times haven’t been sparked into that point in time.
Actually, I was forced to adapt, but I noticed two things that were really important, and actually, this links to a strength that I perhaps have.
I had to reframe that race. I can remember seeing the lane draw and I started catastrophizing. I just thought that this was the end and it was all over. I figured I was going to have a terrible performance because I couldn’t execute the type of race that I’m good at from Lane one.
I can remember seeing the lane draw and I started catastrophizing. I just thought that this was the end and it was all over. I figured I was going to have a terrible performance I was almost defeated before I even got into that race.
Lane one has really tight bends and Oslo has horrendous bends. Lane one you can’t sprint as you naturally would because it’s just the tightness of the curves and I noticed that actually I was almost defeated before I even got into that race.
I had to capture myself and just come reframe my thinking and come up with a positive mindset and I guess, the challenge that I set myself is if I could finish in the top three with a world-class field, a field of that stature, that would be something that would be extraordinary.
I think through that at that point in my race, some adaptations, just a few tweaks, but actually, I had to hold my nerves. So I came into the home straight in the last place, but I had enough left in reserve to be able to glide my way through the field and managed to clinch a personal best time and win that race. It was quite a special moment.
Christian: Yes, really cool.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mark: I’m a big believer in reframing. It’s a skill that just comes naturally to me. I’m always looking for a positive and I’m actually relentless in that.
I’m a big believer in reframing. I’m always looking for a positive and I’m actually relentless in that.
Think about, what’s the lesson, what’s the learning, the thing that it’s given you, or the thing that it’s given you the exposure that perhaps you wouldn’t have? How can you reframe that, so you can glean something positive from it?
That’s really important. I noticed that I’m at my best when I’m responding to challenge. In some way, whether it’s a challenge for the environment externally, pressures that are imposed by others, but having that sense of stretch and challenge brings out the best in me.
It’s how do you give yourself that? Sometimes I’m guilty of self-sabotage to try and recreate that. If you’re able to reframe and think about the learning that you’ve drawn and also that we’ve got so many things.
Sometimes I’m guilty of self-sabotage.
I feel really lucky and privileged. I’ve got so many things that I have enormous gratitude for. I’ve got an incredible family unit of a really supportive wife and great kids. We’re blessed.
We live in a great area, so being able to harness the sense of appreciation and gratitude as well, that’s something that’s really important. It actually has helped me during the lockdown, thinking about all the wonderful things that we got and are able to have as opposed to what’s been taken away from me. I think that those attitudes and adjustments are really important.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Mark: Wow, what a question. I have multiple actually who are not famous people. There’s been a range of sportspeople that I really admired and looked up to.
One of them, at the vanguard of our sport, Carl Lewis. He’s the reason that I wanted to become a track and field athlete myself, I was watching Carl at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
He didn’t quite rewrite the record books, but he emulated what the great Jesse Owens had done at the Berlin Games in 1936. As an 11-year-old, those images are absolutely etched into my consciousness. I’ll never forget them.
As an 11-year-old, those images are absolutely etched into my consciousness. I’ll never forget them.
He was just the epitome of a world-class athlete. Everything that he did, it seemed effortless. He was graceful, high performing and he just had it all. He was my inspiration role model, I guess, the reason why I wanted to get into the sport in the first place.
There have been others along the way. Like Linford Christie, he redefined the record books in terms of sprints and the hierarchy of sprints. And a Brit who is beating the Americans as well, that was fantastic.
As I’ve gone through my career, perhaps others, but now I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the people that I would consider to be some of the best leaders that I’ve ever experienced. Having the opportunity to learn from them, work with them, that’s been fantastic.
Within my own circle, there are some really high flying business people that I’m lucky enough to be able to call my friends. They’ve certainly had a very positive influence on me.
I’m a great believer in just kind of ‘magpieing’ and modeling certain behaviors of people that I think that I like. I start saying that I am going to do some of it because I can see when they do that, it gets a certain outcome. So, I’m trying to do it for myself in a non-offensive way.
What makes a good leader
Christian: Out of interest, what makes a good or great leader?
Mark: That’s a good question. What makes a good or great leader? They need to be clear on their identity and it needs to be based from a values-based perspective. They need an understanding that they’re in the service of others.
A great leader is someone who cares passionately and is really relentless in their focus in terms of creating a culture, whereby people feel inspired and motivated. They feel as if there’s a real clarity of purpose. The work they’re doing is aspirational.
They need an understanding that they’re in the service of others. The work they’re doing is aspirational.
It has something that is deep-rooted and gives them meaning and yet they’re able to be themselves with skill. They’re able to develop their mastery in whatever particular field that they’re going towards and there’s a great sense of collectiveness, harmony, and belonging.
A leader is great if they’re able to get to that place where they are clear on the vision and the purpose. They are great if they’re able to create a sense of challenge so people are really being stretched and motivated.
A great leader will understand what will create the conditions for intrinsic motivation to be at its utmost and challenge people and be clear what the performance expectations are, but they also give them plenty of support. If they are empathetic and help people to have an emotional resonance and connection, I think they’re going to be well on the way to being a great leader.
Christian: Yes, cool.
The best advice he has received
Christian: Yes, cool. What is the best advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
Mark: What’s the best advice that I’ve received? Who gave it to me? I don’t know if it’s the best, but certainly up there and it was quite memorable, was a piece of advice about not being too hard on myself.
I can remember I said the very same words to a friend, not too long ago, but me saying it to them, related to their personal context. Some of us can have a shadow side whereby you might feel flat or you’re not having a great day, or you start to almost chip away at your own levels of self-belief or self-esteem.
I believe that we need to learn to be our own cheerleaders at times. If you can learn not to be so harsh in your critical appraisal of yourself.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself. I believe that we need to learn to be our own cheerleaders at times.
Of course at times s it can serve you really well, that relentless pursuit of excellence, for sure, I get it. But you don’t want it to be to such an extent that it starts actually damaging you in some way, and it starts eroding your self-esteem.
At times there’s something about not being quite as hard on yourself giving yourself a break and I found that quite helpful.
Christian: That has come back quite a few times from high-performance that they live on this double-edged sword of pushing forward, but also them being pretty tough on themselves in instances where they don’t keep goals that they’ve set out for themselves.
A typical training day in the life of a quarter-miler
Christian: Back in the day, how did a typical training day look like?
Mark: Now you’re testing my memory. It feels like a long time ago. It depends on what the session was.
I used to love spending time out in California, so warm-weather training, we’ll go out there for a chunk of up to three months and work out from Cal Berkeley University. We would look to train mid-morning. I’d really be enjoying the full benefits of the climatic conditions; it’d be nice and warm, but not oppressively hot.
You’d be thinking backward from the start time of when you need to warm up, so making sure that you have a good nutritious breakfast. Plenty of times, the food for me could go down, but I was in danger of being sick during the session.
Then what I noticed was it was a really tough session. One of the sessions that you really found out about yourself was a session like 4x 300 meters at warp speed as we used to call it.
You’re having a good recovery and you’re running pretty much flat out and what you’re trying to do is get your body used to build lactic tolerance. You start doing your mental preparations because you know that there’s no escaping.
You’re going to really hurt yourself during that session almost to the point of mentally scarring itself. You needed to be comfortable with that, and you need to get yourself into a place whereby you’d actually embrace the pain and so you’d start just going through your mental preparations to get yourself ready for that.
You need to get yourself into a place whereby you’d actually embrace the pain.
There’ll be an exhaustive warm-up. You get yourself ready, physically, as well as mentally for the carnage that’s going to ensue. Then it’s about trying to preserve energy so you’re thinking about technique all the way through.
So running really efficiently and smoothly, with technical grace so that you’re optimizing the finite amount of energy that you’ve got because you know it’s going to run out at times. After the session, it would be pretty brutal, so you’re trying to recover.
Once you’ve managed to haul yourself up off the track and it would be a screen of destruction. So people throwing up, having headaches and all kinds of stuff, and you slowly claw your way out of that and then you go through a warm down.
You’ve got to flush out those toxins from your system and then when we get back, jump into the Jacuzzi and lots of stretching out. Typically, you have a sports massage after that, and then just chill out and read a book.
You’re just thinking about nutrition and relaxation and recovery. It all depends on what session you were doing, but it was the focal point of any day. In the winter, of course, you might be doubling up on sessions, but yes, it was fun times to be able to dedicate that much focus and attention to training.
What’s going on in the life of Mark Richardson at this moment in time
Christian: What’s going on in the life of Mark at this moment in time?
Mark: I worked for Lane 4 Consultancy. We are a performance consultancy. We have a range of expertise from helping leaders to be the best of skills, helping leaders think about the environment that they’re creating for people and the culture that we create.
We help organizations through change and transformation. I guess we’ve all been forced into this space, but really exciting new product offer. Our digital performance suite, so whether that be self-directed and giving leaders and managers a repertoire of tools to be able to really affect organization and performance as well as virtual delivery.
We do a whole wide range of different things and I’m lucky enough to be part of the partnership group. We’re working hard to try and get some type of normality amongst this global pandemic.
We’ve still got a wide range of customers who are keen to continue with the organizational development objectives and want to keep their learning culture. We’re helping them to be really resilient in the offer that they’re giving to their people. That keeps me fully busy.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Mark: What other quarter-milers have you done? Who else have you done?
Christian: Yes, 400-meter hurdles, Kevin Young. I had Tasha Danvers, Piotr Haczek, who ran against you in the 400-meter relay final at the 1996 Olympics.
Mark: Brilliant. There’s an athlete that I sometimes get confused with. So people think that I am him, Derek Redmond. So he’s got a brilliant story to tell.
Christian: A lot of people know that story of his two Olympics.
Mark: Exactly that. Derek would be a fantastic person to have a conversation with. He’s got a really interesting perspective.
Christian: Yes, really cool. Thanks for that.
Where can you find Mark Richardson
Christian: Where can people find you?
Mark: I’m very active on Instagram. I’m out there and I’m trying to radiate some positivity out there. So, I’m constantly putting some stuff out about the workouts and the fitness stuff I’m doing.
I’m on Twitter as well, Ricco400. Those are probably the main channels. I’m on LinkedIn as well. I’m a big believer in growing your networks. So by all means, please seek me out on those on those platforms.
Mark Richardson’s social profiles
Christian: Really cool. Mark, thanks a lot for your time. That was awesome.
Mark: Absolute pleasure. Great. Thank you.